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Frequently Asked Questions about Multiage Classrooms

If multiage classrooms are so great, why don’t we see them more often?

Priscilla Pardini (2005) researched why multiage classrooms have been declining in recent years. She came up with three main reasons:

  • The implementation of No Child Left Behind and its emphasis on standardized, grade-level testing.
  • More work for the classroom teacher – a rotating three year curriculum must be used so that students aren’t repeating the same lessons, projects, and field trips year after year.
  • A general decrease in interest in programs that focus on the affective side of children's education.
  • Pardini interviewed Tom Cooper, the principal of a multiage school. He responded to the first concern: “When you teach kids well, they'll do fine, regardless of the method of assessment. If the teaching is high quality and the curriculum is comprehensive, test scores will fall into place."

As far as multiage education being more work for the teachers, we are ready and willing to do the necessary work to create a learning environment that communicates to students: “Where you’re at is an okay place to be, but not an okay place to stay.” We will continually assess where our students are developmentally and nudge them forward. We do not see this as a burden, but rather as a privilege. Our goal as instructors is not to be a “sage on the stage” but to be a “guide on the side”.

In response to the third concern; Roberta Berry, superintendent of a school district where three of their four elementary schools offer multiage classrooms, reported “Students in the multiage classes perform as well academically as those in traditional classes while displaying stronger affective, social and leadership skills.” Roxann once attended a conference where the CEO of Boeing spoke. He shared the top reasons for why Boeing had to fire employees. These employees were not fired because they lacked the skills to do their job; it was because they lacked people skills. They had difficulty getting along with co-workers and supervisors. It is our belief that schools need to not only address academic goals but also social skills and work behaviors.

“It's very much a child-centered approach that assesses children's understanding and chooses curriculum pieces to fit their needs," says Sandra Stone, director of the National Multiage Institute, based at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. "The emphasis is on the child rather than on the curriculum.” Although that attitude can guide teacher practice in single-grade classrooms too, it's more likely to happen in a multiage setting. "If you're a 3rd-grade teacher, you tend to focus on, 'This is what I teach,'" says Stone. "If you're a multiage teacher, you focus on 'These are the children I teach.'"

How do you teach 3 grades at once? 

We don't teach three grades of content at once. All the content themes (social studies and science) are rotated through three years. So in three years your child will learn all the social studies and science content in a typical kindergarten, first and second grade curriculum. With math and literacy, we focus on meeting individual student needs. We will not break into grade level groups. Our classroom emphasizes "Where you are at academically is a good place to be, but not a good place to stay." Continuous growth and development is the goal of our classroom. Even if we were teaching one grade level, our class would have a wide span of abilities - a multiage classroom simply plans for and actually celebrates the differences in learners. We build a strong community that honors individual srengths while addressing individual challenges.

What are the benefits of this program for my child?

There are so many to list - reading through our website, you'll be able to answer this question. One huge benefit is the consistency of having the same highly qualified teachers for multiple years. Your child and you will build a long term working relationship with our teachers and since we have more than one teacher, your child will benefit from our team teaching approach.

Click here for a website with more FAQs about multiage classrooms. There are some questions specific to the school that answered these questions, but most of the content is very relevant to our school.

Multiage References:

  • Bellingham School District quote on class size:
  • Pardini, P. (2005). The slowdown of the multiage classroom: what was once a popular approach has fallen victim to NCLB demands for grade-level testing. School Administrator, March 2005.
  • Stone, Sandra. The multiage classroom: A guide for parents. ACEI Speaks.
  • Stone, Sandra. (1998). Defining the multiage classroom. Focus on Elementary, 10(3).
  • Toppo, G. (2008). Size alone makes small classes better for kids. USA Today, March 24, 2008.
  • Veenman, Simon. (1996). Effects of multigrade and multi-age classes reconsidered. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 323-340.
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